review: nausea

31 August 2013

credit: Josh Olins
book info:
on sale: now
copy from: Amazon
review written: 16/8/13
edition read: New Directions Paperback
originally published: 1938 Paris
(Just a small FYI: I read this book many months ago and never got around to doing a review.)

Nausea is the story of Antoine Roquentin, a French writer who is horrified at his own existence. In impressionistic, diary form he ruthlessly catalogues his every feeling and sensation. His thoughts culminate in a pervasive, overpowering feeling of nausea which "spreads at the bottom of a viscous puddle, at the bottom of our time--the time of purple suspenders and broken chair seats: it is made a wide, soft instants, spreading at the edge, like an oil stain"

Winner of the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature (though he declined to accept it), Jean-Paul Sartre, philosopher, critic, novelist, and dramatist,  holds a position of singular eminence in the world of French letters. La Nausee, his first and best novel (1938), is a landmark in Existential fiction and a key work in the twentieth century.
--from back cover

A nihilist, philosophical friend of mine introduced me to this book. She gave me a raving recommendation, and I hastened to purchase this beautiful book. The New Directions Paperback is lovely--I think its a fraction of the reason why I loved the book so much. The font, the small, cut pages and soft feel of the book cover and pages accentuated the melancholy impression I got of this book. I read it under lamplight, at late hours of the night, beside a window opened to a dark sky and cool, fresh air. Definitely, the environment played a role in my love of this book. It's the kind of book that would go great with a hot cup of tea too.

Jean-Paul Sartre is famously well known in the literary world, and is considered the father of Existential writing. It was he that inspired Albert Camus, author of The Stranger. Nausea is a fiction novel, which is said to be his best novel. A fun fact: his lifetime partner is Simone de Beavoir. I have a copy of her book The Second Sex and deeply admire her.  In the Editor's Note, the first page of the book, Sartre gives background on the basis of the story. The diary of Roquentin was written January 1932 after his travels through Central Europe, North Africa and the Far East. He came back to Bouville, his home town, to finish his research on Marquis de Rollebon. Like I mentioned above, the cover of this book is my favourite. This version, actually, is the best. If one is going to read this book, it has to be this version.

The main character is incredibly difficult to describe. I'd call him the quintessential Existential character. Antione Roquentin is a man that is sickened with a feeling he titles "nausea" associated with his very existence. He loathes existence. He comes off as depressed, but I think that there's more to his "illness of the mind" than depression. There are times when I empathise with him, and there are others where I don't. Wikipedia accurately summarises his character when I am at loss of words--"The novel takes place in 'Bouville,' a town similar to Le Havre, and it concerns a dejected historian, who becomes convinced that inanimate objects and situations encroach on his ability to define himself, on his intellectual and spiritual freedom, evoking in the protagonist a sense of nausea."

The story starts out with Roquentin exploring himself and his thoughts. He meets a man called the Self-Taught Man and becomes acquainted with him.

What I really enjoyed about this book was the descriptions. It's the reason I decided to buy the book--so I could always read the descriptions and be inspired. I find it absolutely amazing how Sartre can describe something in such a way that I can feel what he's talking about, and not only visualise. I'll take a quote from the first few pages so I don't ruin it for you. Antione is at a bar listening to a Negress sing.

"What has just happened is that the Nausea has disappeared. When the voice was heard in the silence, I felt my body harden and the Nausea vanish. Suddenly: it was almost unbearable to become so hard, so brilliant. At the same time the music was drawn out, dilated, swelled like a waterspout. It filled the room with its metallic transparency, crushing out miserable time against the walls. I am in the music. Globes of fire turn in the mirrors; encircled by rings of smoke, veiling and unveiling the hard smile of light..." (Sartre, 22)
The most surreal clip of film played in my head at those words. To not only visualise something, but to have it move like a Van Gogh painting is skilled writing. What I also loved was Sartre's philosophy, which is Existentialism. I read Camus's The Stranger first, and fell in love with the queer, quite peculiar way of looking at the world that Camus wrote of. There are many interesting points of life that Sartre explores and explains in the Existential view.

When I read, I got a strange feeling. It was depressing, yes, but it was almost as if I felt the Nausea that is the central theme of the story. I loved this book for the descriptions and the fascinating philosophy and psychology presented by Antoine's character. I give this book five umbrellas our of six! (P.S. thank you Grace Anna for the new rating system!)

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